Yesterday, Pt. II: Aikido--groups and classifications.
While I was standing in line I ran into my friend Annie, who just graduated from Berkeley in physics. I remember when she was a bright eyed high school student visitng for Cal Day, and I gave her the classic recruiting speech on how a physics student can go on to try anything, even if they leave physics or science altogether. I suppose I just had
to prove myself right. Annie eventually held a job I once had, undergraduate coordinator of the Society of Women in the Physical Sciences
. It's a program that tries to address the gender imbalance in physics by providing female students with more of a sense of critical mass. It was always a tough balancing act for me--there were obviously
problems for women in physics, and I obviously
wanted to do something about it, but I'm naturally mildly uncomfortable with anything that sets women and minorities apart simply based on their non-male or non-white status. I like to think of people as just people, but I also don't want to be naive about certain realities. I was thinking about this because when I told Annie I was taking Aikido, she said that she had often stopped to watch in front of the windows of the Dojo
, and had been impresssed by the large number of women training. I've never done a headcount, but my sense is it might even be half, and they range in all levels of experience. My friend Rick Streiker, now wandering the Amazon, told me a friend of his, Andrea Siegel, wrote a book called Women in Aikido
Yesterday after class Peter was telling me that one of Aikido's benefits is that even if one can't do all of it, all the high falls and hard throws, because of age or some physical disability, one can usually still get something out of it. Later another blackbelt (I believe they're called udancha
), Josh, and I were talking about Aikido as a subculture. The journalist in me loves getting into the nitty-gritty of subcultures, analyzing differences and classifying groups and subgroups. (Scott told me that even though he couldn't physically tell who asked the question about Aikido's mission statement, he knew it must have been me.) Women in Aikido! Minorities in Aikido! Bharat Natyam Dancers in Aikido! I am still utterly fascinated by the historical relationship between Indian Dance and East Asian Martial arts. But Peter made a a great point when we were talking---beneficial practices fundamentally have things in common because they are all done by people. The novelist and humanist in me reaches for generalities and truths and commonalities. I don't see this as a conflict so much as a balancing act between two paradigms. To capitalize on my physics education: one has to constantly remind oneself to look at a situation using different vector bases. Nothing is actually different in one basis or another, and yet something intractable in one basis will suddenly become clear when you're working in another.
The answer to my mission statement question, given by Kim Sensei himself, was that the mission statement of Aikido is to "Reconcile the World." Afterwards another blackbelt, Richard, who was one of my Sempai yesterday, said Aikido was a middle way between the "harder," more agressive martial arts, like Tae Kwon Do, and the "softer," more passive ones, like Tai Chi. Instead of attacking or withdrawing, the Aikidoka wants to blend
. This appeals to me. Someone who knows me very
well might understand the special place I give to the concepts of harmonizing and being a harmonist.